These children were not just spending a day in the park, they were becoming Junior Urban Forest Rangers and I was lucky enough to be one of their leaders.
The Junior Urban Forest Ranger program (JUFR for short) allows City of Toronto day campers to connect with nature and with Toronto’s urban forest in a meaningful, educational, and fun way. Throughout the two hour program, we invite kids to learn, and get excited about, Toronto’s urban forest.
I was apprehensive that our first morning of JUFR occurred mid-heat wave when temperatures were predicted to climb as high as 40 degrees Celsius. Would we be able to get our campers excited about the importance of trees, nature and the environment?
My apprehension was misplaced; shortly after 10:00am, 13 excited campers appeared at St. Matthew’s Clubhouse full of energy despite the heat. Before I had even introduced myself, a friendly eight-year old tapped my arm, and eagerly told me that she helped her parents look after their bean plant. A few minutes later, a six-year old explained how to mulch trees in nearly perfect detail and a 10 year old factually announced that trees provide oxygen. These campers had a natural excitement and curiosity about trees, which my fellow Senior Rangers and I merely had to direct.
A camper eagerly shows off his Junior Urban Forest Ranger Badge.
Throughout the day, our campers explored the park, finding squirrels and tree stumps and learning about tree roots and photosynthesis. When it came time to mulch trees, our campers eagerly scaled the mulch pile to find the best mulch for their tree, carefully placed the mulch in a doughnut shape around the trunk and watered their tree before turning to my co-Ranger and I to ask “can we do another tree?”. They weeded around the trees before mulching, proudly showing us when they were able to pull a weed up by the roots. At one point, one of the older boys turned to me and announced “I’m going to ask if I can mulch the trees at my house”.
At the end of our time together, our campers graduated and earned the title of Junior Urban Forest Rangers. With seriousness I had not yet seen from our active group, they repeated the Junior Urban Forest Ranger Pledge, promising to “look after our urban forest and help others do the same”.
Our campers proudly signed their name onto our “Ranger’s Pledge” in order to become a Junior Urban Forest Ranger.
While we may have only had these campers for a few hours one hot morning, I am hopeful that our time together had an impact. By connecting children with nature and allowing them to take some responsibility for the world around them, we empower them while also benefiting our urban forest and the environment. I feel confident that our program planted a seed for future environmentalism and urban forest stewardship amongst our society’s future leaders.
Claire Chadwick is the Youth Program Assistant at LEAF.
LEAF offers a subsidized Backyard Tree Planting Program for private property. The program is supported by The Town of Newmarket, The Regional Municipality of York, City of Toronto, Toronto Hydro, Oakvillegreen, Town of Ajax, and Ontario Power Generation. For details on how you can participate, visit www.yourleaf.org